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If you'd told me that I'd be willing to spend four hours watching a documentary about Frank Sinatra, I probably would have scoffed. As it happens, that's exactly what I did do last weekend, and I can tell you that it is an impressive piece of filmmaking, not without flaws, but wonderful nonetheless. And it even offers some pretty good business lessons.

"Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All" is what I would call a semi-exhaustive look at the singer's life and career. The filmmaker, Alex Gibney, uses as his framing device a farewell concert that Sinatra gave in 1971, having decided to retire from show business. The concert, in Los Angeles, consisted of eleven songs that Sinatra saw as forming the backbone of his career, illustrating his evolution as an artist. Gibney moves from song to song while interspersing some amazing footage, punctuated by interviews with a wide variety of people, including his children and two of his wives.

Now, when I say that the documentary is semi-exhaustive, it is because the film shows a great deal of generosity toward its subject, giving him more than the benefit of the doubt when it comes to things like his relationship with organized crime figures; that may have been part of the price of gaining so much cooperation from so many people.

On the other hand, the filmmakers probably would argue that they are simply more interested in his artistry. That's a completely legitimate position, especially since Sinatra is, by almost any measurement, a transformational cultural figure. The concert footage and recordings are remarkable, and the film uses a wide range of interviews with Sinatra to largely narrate the story. What comes across most is how Sinatra thrived on aloneness ... which is different from loneliness. The songs are best when his voice exists in a kind of isolation, as the dominant instrument in any of the performances. A piece this week suggests that "Sinatra’s voice is always that of someone confiding, not someone emoting." I think that captures it precisely.

In one of the interviews that carry the film along, journalist Pete Hamill, who once wrote a book called "Why Sinatra Matters," says that while Sinatra's "imperfections were upsetting," he was "a genuine artist, and his work will endure as long as men and women can hear and ponder and feel. In the end, that's all that truly matters."

This authenticity as an artist is what makes "Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All" work so well.

As for the business lessons...

One of the central themes of the documentary is how Sinatra reinvented himself numerous times as he sought to keep himself relevant to a changing audience. That became extremely difficult for him in the sixties, when rock 'n roll took over the popular consciousness and he no longer could lay claim to being the hippest guy in the room. He'd done his best; even though he hated the music of Elvis Presley, he hosted Presley on his TV show when Elvis returned from the service. (There is great footage of the two of them doing a duet - it is priceless and one of the best things in the film.)

That's something we all have to do in our businesses - seek ways of being relevant to our customers, looking for ways to connect with the people who make our success possible.

There's another lesson. When Sinatra decided to retire in 1971, he was just 56 years old. (He came back a few years later, and had a late career surge.) Think about how the world has changed in the last 40 years or so. Nobody today would consider retiring at 56. Mick Jagger is 71. Paul McCartney is 72. Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen are both 65. They're all still performing, and there is no suggestion that they're too old or not relevant enough to continue for as long as they're able.

These days, 56 is just getting started.




I cannot recommend Still Alice enough. It is a fabulous movie, though incredibly tough to watch ... I know that I had tears in my eyes almost from the beginning.

Still Alice is the story of a highly accomplished linguistics professor, played by Julianne Moore, who discovers she has early onset Alzheimer's, and the movie tracks her inevitable decline as she tries to navigate the horrible impact of the disease. The movie is heartbreaking, not just because of how it affects Moore's character, but also her family - chiefly her husband, played extremely well by Alec Baldwin, and free spirit daughter, played by Kristen Stewart in a wonderful turn.

In the end, of course, it is Moore's movie, and she is extraordinary - proud and defiant and scared and vulnerable, terrified for herself and her family, as she slowly feels her intelligence and language move beyond her grasp.

One cannot help but think of all the people we've known who have been affected by Alzheimer's, and wonder what would happen if that dread disease hits even closer to home. It is provocative and wise and devastating.

Still Alice is going to stay with me for a long time. I think you'll have the same experience.




My wine of the week is a 2011 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Oregon's Stoller Family Estate - it is delicious, with lots of fruit.



That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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